Posts Tagged ‘Randy Pausch’

D.G. Myers on Hitchens, Pausch, and cancer: “Hope is a dicey thing”

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Been there

Cancer has been the odd topic of discussion here the last few days — one more thought from D.G. Myers over at the Commonplace Blog (hat tip to Dave Lull, patron saint of bloggers in the cold, cold state of Minnesota).  Myers, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer a few months ago, agrees with Christopher Hitchens on Randy Pausch‘s Last Lecture: “Pausch’s giddiness has nothing to do with real hope, nor with preparing oneself for death. If you recommend it, your friend will conclude—correctly, as it turns out—that you are not serious about what he is going through.”

“Even so, hope is a dicey thing. And as far as I can tell, no one else can raise your hopes for you. There is no standardized method for achieving it, no universally valid argument for its reality. …

"Nothing to do with real hope"

Don’t try to make hopeful sounds, then. What I found consoling was the consolation that was offered to my wife. It helped enormously to know that she and the children would not be left alone, even if I were to leave them. Similarly, I guess, it gave me steel to understand that I was important and dear to some people. Three or four of my friends were particularly good at this, dropping into my hospital room to say, ‘I read something today that reminded me of you,’ or, ‘I listened to something and wondered what your reaction would be.’ Only two people thought to send me books—no one sent me any movies—and even though the books they sent weren’t really to my liking, they meant a lot to me.

Then there were those who never even contacted me, including my own sister. Nothing quite makes you more aware of the nothingness that awaits you on the other side of Stage Four cancer. My advice: say anything, keep it light and trivial if need be—better lightness and triviality, in fact, than the awkward groping for profundity—but say something. If you say nothing, because you are afraid that you will not know what to say, then you are abandoning the cancer patient to his worst fears, and indulging your own self-centeredness and even solipsism at his expense.

Only one thing is worse than silence, he says: telling cancer patients of “alternative cures.”  Hitchens agrees, but during my own experience with the Valley of the Shadow, I collected all the stories I could.  Part of the research effort.  One of the things Bob Beyers taught me – you never know where the help might come from, or from what unlikely people.

Postscript on 11/11/10:  Myers posted his recommended reading list today, here.

Hitchens on cancer etiquette … and Randy Pausch

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

The Miss Manners of cancer etiquette?

Christopher Hitchens, in a new Vanity Fair piece, sets out a few guidelines about cancer etiquette.  How to deal with the repeated questions, beginning with the simple “How are you”?  When oncology clinic staff ask, he replies simply, “I seem to have cancer today.”

He’s aware of the perils in cataloging gaffes on the part of either patient or non-patient.  He describes the patient’s “unreasonable urge to have a kind of monopoly on, or a sort of veto over, what was actually sayable. Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic.”

While he points out the pitfalls of inevitable awkwardnesses, and the dangers of saying too much and too little, he once again grapples with the clichés of cancer — a subject we discussed earlier.  I always enjoy the ferociousness with which he takes on calcified thinking and stale modes of feeling.  For example, witness this digression into Randy Pausch‘s Last Lecture:

It would be in bad taste to say that this—a pre-recorded farewell by the late professor Randy Pausch—had “gone viral” on the Internet, but so it has. It should bear its own health warning: so sugary that you may need an insulin shot to withstand it. Pausch used to work for Disney and it shows. He includes a whole section in defense of cliché, not omitting: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” The words “kid” or “childhood” and “dream” are employed as if for the very first time. (“Anyone who uses ‘childhood’ and ‘dream’ in the same sentence usually gets my attention.”) Pausch taught at Carnegie Mellon, but it’s the Dale Carnegie note that he likes to strike. (“Brick walls are there for a reason … to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”) Of course, you don’t have to read Pausch’s book, but many students and colleagues did have to attend the lecture, at which Pausch did push-ups, showed home videos, mugged for the camera, and generally joshed his head off. It ought to be an offense to be excruciating and unfunny in circumstances where your audience is almost morally obliged to enthuse.